Archive for November, 2009

Food, Drink and Celebrations: An Interview with Dutch Culinary Historian, Peter Rose

Recently Peter Rose sat down with Daily Gazette Reporter and SCHS volunteer Bill Buell to talk about her newest books and her most recent research. 

Peter’s newest program, Saint Nicholas: The Saint Who Became Santa, was a huge success at the Schenectady County Historical Society.  Speaking to a standing room only crowd, Peter explored the history of Santa Claus from a Bishop of Myra to the Dutch Sinterklaas and finally the Americanized Santa Claus of today.  Using beautiful paintings and artwork from history as well as little known documents from New York’s colonial past Peter successfully educated as well as entertained our audience.

The Schenectady County Historical Society thanks Peter Rose for her amazing program as well as the New York State Council for the Humanities’ Speakers in the Humanities grant program for making talk a reality and especially thank you to our amazing volunteers who always do so much and are able to overcome any hurdle!

If you missed Peter’s program (or just can’t get enough of Dutch Culinary History!) check out Bill Buell’s interview at the attached link.  Copies of Peter’s numerous books are available at the historical society (the perfect gift for the foodie on your list!)

<a href=" view Peter’s interview


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This year volunteer Nancy Edmonds has done an amazing job finding unique peformers to entertain visitors at the Festival of Trees. On November 29th visitors will have the oportunity to hear classic Christmas music on the mountain dulcimer performed by two of the best artists in the country! Come and experience the beautiful timeless sound of the mountain dulcimer while enjoying the sight of our Christmas trees!

Nina Zanetti comes to dulcimer from a diverse musical background, including choral music, violin, viola, piano, and shape note singing. She has taught at dulcimer festivals in PA, VT, CT, and NY; has produced a tablature book called The Softer Side of Dulcimer; and has also co-authored (with Beth Lassi) two books of duet arrangements. She and Beth are featured in Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer Play Music for Christmas, and Nina has also produced a CD of solos and duets, The Sum of the Parts, with Bill Collins. Most recently, Nina became the 2008 National Mountain Dulcimer Champion at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS.

Beth Lassi learned to play several instruments before discovering the dulcimer but none captured her interest or her heart the way this instrument has. She has performed in a variety of settings both as a soloist and in small groups and has taught at festivals throughout the northeast. Beth, along with Nina Zanetti, performs on the compilation CD, Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer Play Music For Christmas. She is also the mountain dulcimer coordinator of the Cranberry Dulcimer and Autoharp Gathering held in Binghamton every summer.

Hear Nina play the Castle of Dromore

On November 29th, the GTO’s will peform with their unique style of  acapella Doo-Wop.  The GTO’s, “Good Times Oldies” are a pure acapella ensemble that recreates and sometimes adds to the traditional harmonies of Doo-Wop. Bob Marcello, the singer who started the group, sings lead and second tenor. Bob started singing Doo-Wop on the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. as a young man. The group he fashioned was a Christian group called “Chalk” (Chalk, because he was a white guy who could sing!) Years passed, but not his love of Doo-Wop Acapella and singing the oldies but goodies. Bob now lives in the Capital District of upstate N.Y. where he started the original GTO’s in 2001.
To hear samples of the GTO’s music

Another great entertainer, Stacy Heller offered her time and her voice last year for our Festival of Trees. This year she will perform December 3rd in the evening and on both weekends of the festival. To learn more about Stacy, read her bio below!

Stacy Heller is a vocalist who has been performing around the Capital Region area for approximately 3 years. She has in the past performed at the Schenectady Historical Society’s “Festival of Trees” and the New York State Museum and in the future will be performing with the Classic Theatre Guild for their 6th Annual New Play Festival where she is in both “The Giant Hoax” by Kit Goldstein and “Yours Till Niagara Falls” by Sandi Dollinger. She is currently a full-time college student at Schenectady County Community College majoring in Music Performance with a Voice concentration. She plans to continue her education by getting her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Music Education.

Didynamous, (botany for a four-petalled flower) was started several years ago when Sylvie Briber found herself seated next to a wonderful tenor (Bob Lillquist) in church choir. Their voices seemed to blend so well that they just needed to find an alto (conveniently Bob’s wife, Pat) and then Chris Walcek agreed to join them as bass-baritone. Voila! The group was formed!

They have sung  several times at their First Unitarian Society, and public events, including most recently at the Stockade Walkabout, the downtown holiday celebration, “Magic and Melodies,” (see them again this year on Thursday, Dec. 3 in City Hall, 6:30-7:30pm) and also as part of the “Festival of Trees” at the Schenectady County Historical Society, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2-4pm.
To learn more about all of our performers and information on the Festival of Trees check out our Facebook page

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MIA – Missing artwork from Schenectady’s Past

The Schenectady County Historical Society is planning an exhibit “Faces of Schenectady 1715-1750” which will include the known portraits of Schenectady residents of the period. The Society is looking for several portraits known to exist but unlocated.  Does anyone know their whereabouts. The portraits are Barent Vrooman circa 1730, John Dunbar and his wife Jeanette Egmont  Schermerhorn circa 1720 and Cornelius(?) Van Dyke circa 1720.  The Society would also like to know if descendants or collectors have other portraits of Schenectady residents that fit into the 1715-1750 time frame. If you have questions or any information to provide please contact Ona Curran, Guest Curator of the exhibit  or Kate Weller, Curator of Collections at the Society.

Ona Curran

518 875-7049

Kate Weller

518 374-0263

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The Taste of Tradition

 In preperation for the November 21st lecture by Peter Rose “St. Nicholas: The Saint who became Santa” we will offer a series of blogs which look at the history behind St. Nicholas and the culinary traditions of the Dutch in New York. 

For reservations for Ms. Rose’s program (sponsored by the New York State Council for the Humanities) call us at 518-374-0263.  The program is free and open to the public but reservations are highly recommended.


Cake Mold

Early nineteenth century mold in the SCHS collections

No matter what the holiday or special occasion, food factored heavily into Dutch celebrations.  From the beginning of December through Twelfth Night, special breads, cookjes, and deserts came out of ovens throughout New Netherland.  Wafers made in special irons, marzipan molded into shapes or diamond duivekater, graced both tables, and children’s shoes during the St. Nicholas celebrations.  On Twelfth Night, the sixth day of January, a special cake helped settlers celebrate the end of the holiday season.  A bean, baked inside the cake, when discovered decided who would “rule” for the evening.  Into the nineteenth century, Dutch-American families held onto their recipes.  The most treasured of these traditions were the New Year cookjes or speculaas.  Traditionally given to New Years visitors, the hand-made wooden molds used to create the cookjes were passed down from generation to generation, later in the nineteenth century, mass-produced iron molds became popular.

            Easily the largest and most impressive mold in the collection of the Schenectady County Historical Society, this cake mold dates to the early nineteenth century.  It is a fiat board which combines both a large cake mold on one side and on the other a variety of cookie molds on the other.  Its pointed oval designs, floral motifs, symmetry, and high quality of craftsmanship help date it but as with many hand made wooden items, an exact date is next to impossible to establish.

            Often professional bakers were trained as part of their apprenticeship to carve a diverse variety of molds for their own professional needs.  Ranging from floral motifs and fanciful fruit to Punch and Judy, Native Americans, and soldiers, these molds were very diverse and unique.  When mass-produced iron molds appeared in the nineteenth century, popular styles were copied for the public.  New Year greetings, animals, fruit, and flowers were some of the most common symbols but odd images also appeared.  One mold in the collections of the Schenectady County Historical Society shows a child on a chamber pot.  An interesting choice for a cookie mold especially because smaller iron molds like this were intended for the home and, mass-produced for a wide audience.

            By the end of the nineteenth century, the art of carved wooden cookie molds was revived by a number of Schenectadians eager to reclaim a part of their past.  Although these molds are often not of the same artistic caliber of their fore fathers, the images chosen and their existence at all is a testament to the renewed interest in history seen during this period.  A mold in the collection depicts Union College.  Always a strong aspect of Schenectady, Union College, established in 1795, was a badge of pride for the city.  As it reached its centennial, it may have inspired the creation of this mold.

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Faces of Schenectady: The Mabee Connection

By Ona Curran

 Curator Kathryn Weller and Guest Curator Ona Curran are planning an exhibit on early 18th century portraiture from Schenectady County.  Scheduled to open  May 10, 2010 the exhibit will showcase portraits of the Veeders, Glens, Sanders, Becks, Truax, Swarths, Van Slyck, Ten Eyck and the Society’s portraits of  Helena Van Eps and the Van der Volgens. Illustrated is the portrait of Anna Mol Fairly Beck a niece of Jan Pieterse Mabee the progenitor of the Mabee name in Schenectady and the first Mabee to own the historic Mabee house given to the Society by the late George Franchere, a descendant. Groundbreaking ceremonies were recently held for an Education Center on the site. The portrait of Anna Mol beck is the only known Mabee portrait from this early period of Schenectady history.

Van Cortlandt Manor with Anna Beck portrait

Owned and operated by Historic Hudson Valley, Van Cortlandt Manor presents the life of a Post-American Revolutionary War family. Visitors can see how the house may have been furnished during the early Federal period and learn about the excitment and difficulties of living in a new nation. View of the parlor. The two portraits (1724-1725) are of Caleb and Anna Beck, relatives of the Van Cortlandt family, attributed to artist Nehemiah Partridge. This view also provides a glimpse of the outstanding collection of Chinese export porcelain in the house.

 came to Schenectady in 1703 following her marriage to Caleb Beck. She was the daughter of Engeltie Mabee and Jan Jansen Mol and granddaughter of Pieter Casparzen Mabee and Aechtje Jans.

The exhibit will celebrate the Society’s recent acquisition of the Van der Volgen collection which includes an important portrait of Laurens Claus Van der Volgen  who was taken prisoner by the Indians during the 1690 massacre, returned to Schenectady ten years later and became interpreter for the New York Province. The portrait is attributed to Nehemiah Partridge and was painted about 1720. It is a major addition to the society’s collection.

Portraits of early 18th century residents are in major museum collections throughout the East. The various museums have been invited to participate. The Society is anxious to learn of other portraits of this period which may be in family collections and is interested in hearing from you. Contact Kate Weller Curator or Ona Curran guest curator of the exhibit.

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